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Lend an Ear
Etcetera Theatre
16th August 2016

★★★☆☆

The ensemble of Lend And Ear

Photography provided by Dramatize Co

Have you ever repeated yourself so many times you gave up trying to make yourself heard? I did this the other day with a bus driver. I said the same words over and over again and he claimed he couldn't understand me. Another passenger kindly stepped in to interpret and finally we had a dialogue and the frustration melted away. Sometimes you need to keep trying to get your message across and sometimes, just sometimes, it's okay to accept a bit of help with that.

The difficulties of communication and the importance of persevering anyway are central to Lend an Ear, a new devised show by Paper Feet Theatre and Dramatize Co. It's an idea particularly relevant to both companies, with Paper Feet seeking to make productions accessible to all, and Dramatize trying to create a level playing field for disabled performers. Lend an Ear is a short, simple but effective piece of theatre, incorporating dialogue however fundamentally relying on movement to tell the story.

The collaboration works well, because with a group of seven performers, they are stronger than the sum of their parts. The individual strengths of each actor are called upon. Simon for example is an enthusiastic dancer, conveying his character's emotions best through dance. Chloe has a wonderfully expressive face, spinning us a yarn through a wide grin or unimpressed grimace. They say 93% of communication is non-verbal and you certainly know what Chloe's character is thinking without any words escaping from her mouth.

Claire is an excellent narrator, reciting passages from the eponymous poem with very clear diction and good recall. It's a tough job, with Claire having limited scope to improvise. Luckily she remembers every line perfectly. As for Holly, she steals the show in her scenes with Paris, with a passion for drama that is very evident in her delivery. Supporting Simon, Chloe, Claire and Holly are Lois, Paris and Tori from Paperfeet, who attack their lines with gusto and help control the action in the scenes involving the entire ensemble.

Repeated gestures help clearly establish an emotion or explain a scenario, with the busy group interactions some of the more successful scenes. As the entire ensemble shout over each other with words associated with social media, it's almost like a song made out of all the superficialities of today's text-based society. There is no live music though and given the message of Lend an Ear, I think it would be interesting to see how the performers could weave singing into this piece, perhaps with Holly taking lead vocals. Singing after all is sometimes an easier way for some people to communicate than speaking, and I would like to see this additional medium explored.

Dramatize state that they seek to prove actors with learning disabilities are equal to able-bodied performers. I'm not sure they are. I mean, I'm seen some shows this Camden Fringe that aren't nearly as successful as this one, so "equal" may be downplaying what they can and do achieve. They can certainly hold their own, put it that way. I'm more than happy to lend an ear to the story they want to share and I'm intrigued to see where they go after this imaginative, comic and heartfelt production. Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.

Lend an Ear opened on 15th August and runs until 17th August 2016 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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